Liberia: Runoff Election At Stake - Supreme Court Reserves Ruling in Up Bill of Information

The Supreme Court of Liberia.

Monrovia — On Monday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Bill of Information seeking a stay order on the pending December 26, 2017 runoff.

During the hearing, the Court asked several questions to both contending lawyers.

But specifically, it asked the legal team of the National Elections Commission (NEC) if it was attentively following the Supreme Court's mandates handed down on December 7, 2017, in the case filed against NEC by Liberty Party.

The Elections body legal team answered saying that the court's mandates are being gradually followed.

They further informed the court that an ECOWAS technical team is working along with them to sanitize the Final Registration Roll (FRR).

In the nation's highest court's recent opinion, it ordered NEC to, among other things, do the following before the runoff election, which is scheduled to be held between the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Unity Party (UP).

Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III, who read the Court's mandates told NEC to "comply with the standards of publications of the Final Registration Roll as in keeping with law and as discussed in the Opinion; to "conduct a full clean-up of the FRR to ensure that multiple names of identification numbers are removed therefrom;" and to "make available the FRR in published hard copies to all Election Magistrates and polling places across the country in accordance with law prior to any runoff election being conducted."

Justice Banks told NEC to "prohibit anyone whose name is not found on the FRR to vote;" to also "ensure that any addendum to the FRR be limited to only those listed in the NEC's polling and counting manual;" and to "ensure that poll watchers who are not registered in their places of assignment and whose names are not on the FRR should not be allowed to vote."

The Court also mandated that NEC "ensures that the Chairman and members of the Board of Commissioners of the NEC and any staff of NEC are prohibited from any public or other pronouncements and utterances relating to any matters which may grow out of the run-off election or any statements in regard to any complaint filed with the NEC, as could create any semblance of bias, prejudice or view of the case."

Few days after the Court had passed these mandates over to NEC, UP filed a Bill of Information with the court. They cited several issues ranging from the alleged failure of NEC to fully collaborate with the two parties going for runoff in the cleaning of the FRR and the announcement of date for the runoff.

UP lead lawyer, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, argued that NEC failed to comply with the Supreme Court's mandate and went ahead to schedule a date for the runoff.

Cllr. Sannoh indicated that in the absence of an agreed methodology of the cleanup of the FRR, NEC created an impression that the FRR is already cleaned.

"The NEC has failed, neglected and refused to react to this submission, let alone to invite the parties to a meeting to discuss same," he informed.

"The Bill of Information was filed December 14 and the roadmap was presented December 15, but we say the roadmap was only presented because we filed the Bill of Information."

According to our Judicial reporter, the Court, after it had handed its opinion, has three days before its mandates become effective and that in the case, UP should have given NEC time prior to the Bill of Information.

Ahead of the Court's ruling, Associate Justice Banks, III, urged both parties to work together to get the FRR cleaned.

Responding to an enquiry from one of the Justices as to whether NEC setting of the December 26 date for the runoff election was in line with the Constitution, Cllr. Sannoh stated that NEC doesn't have the authority to set the election date but rather the National Legislature.

However, NEC in its counter argument said the mandates of the Supreme Court were sent to them on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, following which they then announced the run-off for December 26, 2017.

Cllr. Musa Dean said when NEC resumed jurisdiction on the same day the mandates were given to them, UP engaged NEC contending that they should conduct clean-up of the FRR in close collaboration with the two parties involved in the run-off.

Cllr. Dean argued that the implementation of the Supreme Court's Mandate is not an event but a process, comprising three phases: pre-runoff election activities, Election Day activities and post-runoff election activities.

According to him, pre-runoff election activities, entail the conduct of the full clean-up of the FRR to ensure that multiple names of identification numbers are removed; that voters' identification numbers are unique by preventing more than one voter from having the same number; de-duplication of the FRR; publication of the Final Registration Roll (FRR).

He disclosed that since the arrival of the ECOWAS team, they have been working along with NEC technicians and the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) technicians on a road-map regarding the cleaning up of the FRR.

Cllr. Alexander Zoe, another of NEC lawyers, in closing told the Court that the Bill of Information is "unwarranted, premature, unmeritorious and filed in bad faith."

He recommended that the UP legal team be disbarred, fined or suspended by the Supreme Court.

Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, said: "Any counselor, who files an information before the Supreme Court assigning reasons therefore other than the reasons expressly prescribed by the Rules of the Supreme Court shall be penalized by the imposition of a fine, suspension or disbarment".

Chief Justice Korkpor further stated that though the Bill of Information is an election case, no time is attached to its ruling by the Court as compare to an appeal.

"We will treat this as an election case, but no time is attached to when the court should rule, we may rule from now to the end of this week," the Chief Justice added.

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